Think you have the skills it takes to become an interior designer? Whether your friends are always telling you that you have an “eye for design” or you’re ready to change careers, it’s worth considering the abilities one needs to land great interior design jobs. Creativity and passion are certainly high up on the list, but it’s a mix of artistic and business skills that will help skyrocket your career.
When entering into the interior design profession, the possibilities are limitless. While some designers specialize in residential interiors, there are also lucrative career opportunities in commercial interiors and home staging. And new sectors are always popping up. For instance, an increased focus on green and sustainable design has opened up a whole range of new opportunities in the interior design field.
But just how much do interior designers earn? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for an interior design is $51,500 as of May 2017. This puts it on the high end in terms of art and design careers, with earning potential varying greatly depending on one’s location. In fact, the top 25% earners in the field take home a median annual salary of a little over $70,000, with those living in metropolitan areas going into six figures.
Before you dive in thinking that interior design is all about color swatches and fabric samples, we’ll help you go granular and dissect whether you really have what it takes to become the next great designer. Luckily, the New York Institute of Art and Design (NYIAD) has a comprehensive online interior design course that allows you to enroll at any time and learn at your own pace. By scouring the curriculum, we’ve come up with some essential skills you’ll want to master.
Whether you are looking to change careers or formalize your interior design training, NYIAD’s class marries online learning with one-on-one feedback from a professional interior designer. NYIAD is also nationally accredited and certified by the prestigious Designer Society of America, putting you in the perfect position to start your interior design career.
Here are 10 essential interior design skills you’ll need to have if you want to launch a successful career.
A basic understanding of the color wheel and hues allows interior designers to build color palettes that are the foundations of any space. A strong grasp of how colors work together, what emotions they pull, and how they can create illusions are all abilities every interior designer needs, in order to begin creating a successful room design. Some designers are well known for their creative use of pattern and color, which only comes from a solid foundation in color theory.
One thing that often separates designers from non-designers is the ability to envision a space. Whether starting with a blank canvas or having to cut through clutter, an interior designer needs to be able to quickly and effectively survey the area and project how the space can transform through design. Of course, being detail oriented in taking measurements and translating a vision through digital or hand-drawn sketches are part of what comes along with spatial awareness. However, it’s often about looking ahead at the end product—and how the space can be molded to fit the client’s needs— that places interior designers in a different category.
Successful interior designers marry their creativity with a keen awareness that each of the spaces they design have a purpose. Kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms all have specific functions that must be addressed in the design and they need to be balanced within the overall creative vision. The ability to adapt and remain open to a client’s needs allows interior designers to stretch their skills and retain different clientele. A family of four moving into their first home and a young bachelor in the city may have wildly different needs. For instance, a plexiglass designer chair may look perfect on paper, but for a couple with two young children, it may not be practical. It’s up to a designer to mold their style within the requests of the client while staying true to their aesthetic.
Harmony and Balance
One of the greatest skills interior designers possess is their ability to arrange furniture, appliances, and decor in a manner that leaves the room feeling balanced. This creates an aesthetically pleasing arrangement that automatically brings good energy to the interior. Interior designers know how to build up small elements—from wall color and flooring to lighting and decor—in order to create an interior that works well together.
How to Create a Mood
When one walks into a room, they are aware of its ambiance—be it consciously or not. Understanding the mood a client wants, and how to achieve that through color, fabrics, and decor is an ability that will keep clients satisfied and coming back for more.
Design Trends and History
A solid understanding of interior design styles, from French or Mediterranean to Industrial or American Farmhouse, gives a designer a jumping off point. Some interior designers specialize in a clientele married to a particular style, while others use a historical style as a platform for experimentation. But just as in any creative field, a savvy interior designer will be well versed in all design styles and be able to mix and match as needed. Similarly, keeping up with the latest design trends allows interior designers to advise their clients correctly and introduce new ideas into the design process.
While the creative process is a large part of any interior design career, these professional skills are an essential part of maximizing potential.
People and Communication Skills
As members of a customer service-oriented business, interior designers need to be adept at working with clients. From managing expectations to cultivating relationships, successful designers have a knack for communicating their vision and adapting their working style to different personalities. On the flip side, designers also work with vendors and contractors. These relationships will also need to be fostered and maintained. Possessing good communication skills helps designers in all aspects of their career, whether it comes to signing contracts or unveiling their vision.
Budget and Timeline Management
Time and money are two elements that any interior designer will constantly be working with—and against. Every project will have a budget and timeline, with it often down to the interior designer to ensure that things come in on time and within budget. This will take good organizational and negotiation skills, attention to detail, as well as the ability to solve problems on the fly.
Aside from having a project budget to run, designers also have a business to run—and people to pay. Multiple projects are often handled at once—each one in a different phase of the process. Networking and negotiating new projects are also constantly in the mix. Clear, organized processes help interior designers keep all balls in the air at once so there is a constant cycle of work without any client, budget, or deadline confusion.
Making good use of technology not only helps interior designers stay organized, but is becoming an industry standard. Learning AutoCAD—NYIAD has a course for that too—and other interior design programs help professionals lay out their vision clearly. They also allow for adjustments down the line and for easy sharing with architects, contractors, and other professionals collaborating on projects.